September 14, 2011

How To Ace A Record Label Interview

As both an undergrad and a law student, I have interned at my fair share of record labels.  But to get those internships I had to jump one major hurdle - the interview.  All of the usual interviewing advice still applies when you apply to an internship at a record label, but over the years I have developed a few rules that apply specifically to labels.  These tips are for everyone, although they will especially make you stand out if you are interviewing for a legal position.

Always know your favorite band on the label.
This is KEY.  Internships are won or lost on this question.  Just like you wouldn't go to an interview at any other company without knowing what they do, don't go into an interview with a record label without being familiar with their roster.  Labels don't just want someone knowledgeable and hard-working (although those are certainly very important), they also want someone who is passionate about the label and the bands.  If there's not a familiar name on label's roster, make sure to do some research on your music streaming site of choice beforehand so that you can have an answer ready.

Have a unique story.
A good background story is a must at any interview in order to answer that dreaded question: "So tell me about yourself."  Your interviewer has just heard ten other people answer by talking about how they sang in their high school chorus or spent their teenage years holed up in their room learning the guitar and listening to [insert angsty band here].  You need a story that both explains why you are applying for an internship with the record label and stands out from the broken record of "I've always loved music!" your interviewer has been hearing all day.  That's great that you love music, but why try to work in the music business?  What challenges involved in working in music interest you?  How did you discover (and perhaps overcome) those challenges?  An effective story should intrigue your interviewer and make you memorable.  Even if you don't get the internship, when another position in your area of interest becomes available, you might be the first person the label calls.  So reach a little deeper into why you want to work in the music business and focus your message to reflect those reasons.

Be familiar with recent industry news.
This is why I write my legal news updates (it's not just because I'm a nerd... it's also for you!) and why in the past we suggested a list of websites you should be reading.  Knowing what's going on in the industry is important.  It shows that you care and are in this for the long haul.  In particular, know any recent developments regarding the label.  Once at an interview, my interviewer mentioned that an opinion had just been issued for a case that the label was involved in.  Because I try to stay current with music industry happenings (law-related or not), I was able to immediately supply the name of the case.  Now imagine how much having that small piece of knowledge would make me stand out if I was the only applicant who knew what he was talking about!  If it's a marketing internship, notice how the label's upcoming releases are being promoted.  Again, do your research, and the more you make keeping up with music industry news a habit, the more confident and impressive you will be at interviews.

Have an opinion.
Related to the above point, have an opinion on what's going on in the music industry.  Law students know to always have an opinion on the reading for class (oh the joys of the Socratic Method), so hopeful legal interns should always have a few thoughts on the latest judicial opinion affecting the music industry.  All other potential interns should have an opinion on the latest trends in their area.  Having an in-depth discussion on a music industry topic with your interviewer will make you more interesting and, once again, help you stand out.

Have an up-and-coming band to recommend.
This is something that you should always have in your back pocket, whether you're at a networking event or a housewarming party.  People working in the music industry are constantly asking each other, "What are you listening to?"  If you've recently rediscovered the genius of David Bowie, say so, but throw in an up-and-comer your interviewer may not have heard of (keep it to one or two - if you rattle off a whole list your interviewer won't remember any of them).  Just as it's important to know what's going on in the business side of things, it's also important to know what's going on in the part that really matters - music.

Overall, record labels are looking for someone dedicated and passionate.  They are turned off by people who appear to be applying on a whim just because they thought it would be cool or they'd get to meet Lady Gaga.  If your focus is on demonstrating to your interviewer that you are serious about working in the music industry, you will definitely make the short list and maybe even the final cut!

- Lauren
lauren@internlikearockstar.com | Twitter: @MusicN3rd
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